By Julián Harruch Morales, EL ESPECTADOR, September 14, 2021


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The National University professor and expert in armed conflict insists that modifications have been made without consultation with the other party to the Agreement. He characterizes its implementation as “a disaster.” Moreover, he believes it’s probable that Colombia will be entering a new cycle of war.

At nearly five years after the signing of the Peace Agreements, their implementation is passing through a critical moment. While the Duque administration insists, mainly to the international community, that it’s complying, in spades, with what was agreed, more than one side has criticized the hostility shown by the administration and the governing party toward the institutions created as a result of the Agreements, such as the slow progress in the social reforms the Agreements contemplate.

Colombia+20 talked with Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín, professor at the National University of Colombia, and one of the most distinguished experts on the Colombian armed conflict, about the implementation of the Peace Agreements, which is the subject of his latest book, titled  “A New Cycle of War in Colombia?”.  In the book, he states that the Colombian government is not complying with the Agreements, and he warns of the risks that this failure could bring to the country.

In your book “A New Cycle of War in Colombia?”, published in 2020, you state that the government, and in particular, the current administration, is not complying with the Peace Agreement. In fact, you say that the Agreement “is already dead”, a claim that’s being resisted, although for different reasons, not only by defenders but also by detractors of the Agreements between the government and the FARC guerrillas. Can you explain your reasons for believing in this very pessimistic assessment of the implementation of the Agreements?

It’s not an evaluation that has anything to do with pessimism. The Agreement, as it was negotiated in Havana, which was the result of consensus achieved between the two forces that signed it, no longer exists. That’s because there has been a change in the rules of the game. The Colombian government, not just the current administration, arrogated to itself the ability to change the Agreement unilaterally. The changes to the Agrarian Jurisdiction and to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, made by the Congress, and permitted by the decisions of the Constitutional Court, show that they made modifications beyond what was negotiated in Havana, and without considering the other party.

Besides that, the implementation is a disaster. How many hectares, for example, have been turned over to campesinos? Or let’s think about the administration’s position regarding the Truth Commission and the JEP, the two agencies that they haven’t been able to rip to shreds, only because the international community has encircled them. Or OK, let’s think about what’s happened to the Agreements on political participation, or on the number of social leaders and former combatants that have been murdered. Now, and I also said this explicitly in the book, all of the foregoing doesn’t mean that the Agreement as a program of social transformation is dead.

You have pointed out that in order to analyze the drifting of the peace process, it’s fundamental to consider the role that Uribismo has played, and why that is key to being able to develop a serious and consistent policy to defend the Agreement. What are the reasons for Uribism’s programmatic opposition to the peace process?

There are three things about Uribism that you have to keep in mind in order to evaluate its role in relation to the Agreement. The first is that Álvaro Uribe, during both his administrations, put forth initiatives to talk with the FARC. In fact, Daniel Coronell has established that Uribe said that a conversation with the guerillas would have to be different from a negotiation with the paramilitaries. Those initiatives were not fruitful. But the point is that here there was an opportunity to apply a principle of common sense. The big problem, and this is the second point, is that there are powerful interest groups nesting in Uribism, and under this administration, they have almost had a veto over critical initiatives related to the peace, especially in two areas: the land, and truth and reparation.

With respect to the land, the most conservative, the most violent, the most associated with the armed conflict are explicitly represented in Uribism, and not by accident. That’s why Uribism has constantly fought land restitution and everything related to transformations in agriculture. And also, because of mutual attraction and as a programmatic position, Uribism has claimed that government agents ought to be beyond or kept safe from various accusations. That’s why in terms of transitional truth and justice, they have opposed the Agreement very bitterly.

And, finally, there is a third thing: between 1960 and today, Colombian society has suffered a very profound transformation, in that the rationale for hatred and the calls for the murder of a political adversary were going beyond the rhetorical then. Today, it’s hard to find one single example of someone on the left, in the center, or on the non-Uribist right who would suggest that it would be good to kill someone. On the contrary, in Uribism, you find that kind of talk frequently. Uribism has resisted that transformation, that giving in to the Fifth Commandment, and we are seeing the consequences.

We saw that in the Nation Strike of this year, for example, where they fired weapons with a homicidal dynamic, made open justifications of their attacks on the civilian population, and Uribism has not backpedaled even one step. In the context of the implementation of a Peace Agreement, that is catastrophic, because of the kind of people involved, and because of the kinds of actions that they justify.

If we turn our attention now to the political forces that have defended the Agreement, what mistakes have they made? Or simply, what are the remaining tasks they need to do to be able to salvage what’s left of the Agreements? You have indicated that there are a number of weaknesses and inconsistencies in the pacifist rhetoric . . .

From the very start, the pacifists’ talk was full of mistakes. A beginning question is the incredible irresponsibility of launching the plebiscite. That irresponsibility laid bare the profound misunderstanding of the Uribist vote, and of the social foundations of the Uribists. They ought to have been able to understand what that vote was about and what its social foundations were. The idea, a little bit trivial, consisted in that their vote was simply a phony purity of conscience. But there was much more than that. Even now, when that current is reduced to its minimum expressions, and in the midst of the delegitimization produced by their own homicidal dynamic, there is an Uribist vote that is very loyal, and they have to be familiar with that and understand it.

A second problem is that the pacifist talk also had a certain double entry accounting, and a tendency to play with the institutional design to obtain certain results. That generated in the opposing party a series of genuine demands that had to be dealt, and to this day they have not been dealt with.  A third issue is that there has been an appeal that had a rather cruel aspect in that people like us, the people in-the-know, were talking among themselves about how nice and beautiful the peace would be, and sent people of their own social level out to the countryside, often very young people, to deal with social leaders and actors that been through a lot. That resulted in very poor interactions, and a very poor presentation of what the peace would be like.

And the last problem is that there was a diagnosis that was a cheerful, frivolous, and unprofessional assessment of where the social foundations of the peace really were. There was an argument that still lingers, and that promises that the major voters in favor of peace are going to be, or were, from the sectors called “Colombia profunda” (“The real Colombia”) and the sectors hardest hit by the violence. It turns out that this sounds very nice, but it doesn’t square with the evidence. It’s true that there was an enormous pacifist dynamic in the big cities. But there was not the kind of conversation that would create an explicit connection between the Peace Agreement and urban Colombia.

In spite of the critical state that the Agreements are in, what dividends have the peace left, and why is it important to insist on defending it? For a lot of Colombians, after all, it looks as if it isn’t a priority, and that it’s not very importance that the government isn’t keeping its word to an organization, like the FARC, that has very little popular support, almost none at all, and on the contrary a very high humanitarian debt with this country . . .

I would say four things. The first is that the Agreement achieved the demobilization of a group that specialized in very great violence. They were very prepared and very skilled; in fact, by far the most adept player in the Colombian conflict. A second dividend are the indirect effects. The implementation has generated the creation of numerous government agencies that are pedaling with enthusiasm. For example, with regard to the agricultural agenda, the Land Restitution Unit, the Agency for Territorial Renewal, and the National Land Agency. It’s no accident that never, or hardly ever, have we seen corruption scandals in those agencies.

A third very important dividend are the transitional justice entities, which have managed, to obtain international support that will advance possibilities for peace in Colombia. And a fourth point is that the Peace Agreement opened the floodgates for citizen participation in different sectors, both rural and urban. The problem is that they have tried to curtail that participation. With the levels of violence and the complete shutdown of institutions, they can accomplish that. But it would be a terrible tragedy for this country.

You have pointed out that we are probably seeing the end of guerrilla warfare as we have come to know it. And, nevertheless, you have warned that the country could be unraveling into a new cycle of political war. Once again, and for different motives, not only the detractors of the Agreement, but also its defenders, are scrambling to discount that scenario. Why, in your opinion, could it be wrong to characterize the new violence that we are experiencing as a simple criminal and narco phenomenon? In what sense and for what reasons could there be the opening of a new cycle of political war (not mincing words)?

A new cycle of war would not be a remobilization of the FARC, like a counterinsurgency war, in conjunction with the National Front, and not a simple remobilization of liberal guerrillas or conservative armed groups. It’s something different. At a time of frustrated peace, a peace with a lot of reneging, different specialists in violence were looking for new ways to organize. In the current situation, it’s clear that the two administrations involved in the process, but above all the Duque administration, pushed lot of intermediate figures back to the jungle that know a lot about war, know how to fight, have contacts out in the countryside, have the people, and are already very active. We should think about people like Gentil Duarte, Romaña, or like El Paisa.

So now, let’s calculate: how many people are actively under arms now? Some 3,000 or 4,000 of the ELN, at least some 4,000 or 4,500 in the FARC dissidents, including those with Gentil Duarte and those with the Second Marquetalia; and another 3,000 or 4,000 people in groups that are the heirs of the paramilitaries. So right now there are approximately some 10,000 people under arms in Colombia. So to say that it’s highly improbable that we will enter a new cycle of war is simply contrary to the evidence.

The only counterargument facing that panorama consists in the idea that all of those groups are drug gangs. But that argument doesn’t work. Even though so far they haven’t prepared a script, these groups are having their political conversation. Obviously, they are very well financed by the drug traffic, and I don’t discount, of course, that many of those groups (for example, some sectors of the Duarte dissidents or the Second Marquetalia) are now probably focused on collecting money. But that’s not a change from the last three or four decades. And the general outlook is that these groups are building an agenda much less ecumenical, and much more localized and oriented to the specifics of the countryside, and that reflect styles of combat and the narrative of a new generation. To synthesize, the counterinsurgency war of the sixties was not a repetition of “The Violence”, and now we are seeing the conditions for the formation of armed dynamics that are not a repetition of the counterinsurgency war, but are indeed based in large measure on the old players.

Throughout the last few years we have seen the strengthening of new kinds of authoritarianism in different parts of the world, and the now tired warning about the crisis of liberal democracy. Are you worried that Colombia could also take an openly authoritarian drift in the next few years?

Uribism has clearly had a double position on democracy. It’s been typically anti-liberal, but in favor of competence. It’s been in favor of elections, because they have always won elections. But now, when they have turned into a group of minorities, we could very well have a factor here that’s conducive to a drift toward authoritarianism. On the other hand, Uribism has always opposed weights and counterweights, and above all it has been opposed to judicial power. That opposition has become more and more bitter and virulent.

Uribism also has a program for the transformation and disciplining of the educational system. That could also turn into a factor that shows a drift toward real authoritarianism. That would be new in the Colombian context. The other option, which is the same scenario that we have had in recent decades, and that is very Colombia, would be the continuation of a competitive political system with weights and counterweights, but at the same time with higher and higher levels of violence, and saturated with talk of hate and homicide. That would be the road to the destruction of masses of human beings. The question is what do we do so that Colombians can avoid those two scenarios, which I would says are the most probable if we keep on with the way we are going.

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